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Tim Benz

Tim Benz: Should Steelers want to sign Le'Veon Bell long term?

| Thursday, Feb. 8, 2018, 7:42 p.m.
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell scores past the Ravens' C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell scores past the Ravens' C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle during the first quarter Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017, at Heinz Field.

A lot of people in Pittsburgh seem to be warming to the idea of letting Le'Veon Bell walk away in free agency.

Just let him leave! He wants too much money. He says stupid things on social media. Philadelphia won the Super Bowl with a running back by committee.

Goodbye, Lev!

Meanwhile, I've lobbied to keep him. I've felt like Jerry Maguire lately. I'm in the office. Holding the goldfish in the bag, yelling: “Who's coming with me!?”

Well, I've found my Renée Zellweger. It's Steelers owner Art Rooney II.

“We'd like to have a long-term contract with Le'Veon (Bell),” Rooney II said Wednesday. “That is what we hope happens this offseason.”

Whoa, calm down Renée! Give me back my fish. I just meant on the franchise tag.

This latest public step in the ongoing Bell contract drama isn't making sense from an organizational point of view, much like it hasn't from the player's point of view.

On his front, Bell has been nothing short of schizophrenic when it comes to the prospect of staying in Pittsburgh.

On Wednesday, he “liked” multiple tweets of news reports using the Rooney quote above.

Earlier in the week, he renamed his handle on Instagram to remove the word “Steelers” from it.

Before the playoffs, Bell said to the Steelers have to “get the numbers straight exactly where we want them. I'm not going to settle for anything.”

Then, at the Pro Bowl, Bell said he's optimistic a long-term deal will get done, also allowing he “may have to give a little.”

The hardest thing about getting a long-term contract done with Bell may be trying to figure out which Bell is on the other end of the phone at the time.

Meanwhile, from an organizational stance, why extend Bell long term at this point when it couldn't be done last offseason? The franchise tag actually makes more sense now than it did a year ago unless you take Bell at his word he is going to retire if he's tagged again.

And if you do, I'd love to play poker with you.

For those worried the exclusive franchise tag designation for Bell is too expensive, it only would increase his cap hit by about $2.6 million from last year. After Bell received the tag last winter, the Steelers still made a run at Dont'a Hightower, acquired Joe Haden and extended Stephon Tuitt.

This year, Ladarius Green comes off the books. A release of Mike Mitchell could save in excess of $5 million, and the potential of a restructure/extension for Ben Roethlisberger could open up room against this year's cap, too.

Reports during the summer stated the Steelers offered Bell a five-year contract worth a little more than $60 million, with $30 million over 2017 and '18 and an additional $12 million for the third season.

Bell will end up making almost $27 million in those two franchise-tagged seasons, anyway.

The Steelers were basically saying: “Your greatest worth to us is in those first two to three years. After that, we're taking a risk based on your health.”

The team acted accordingly in 2017, getting as much as possible out of Bell while they could. He got the ball 406 times in the regular season. He led the NFL in receptions and carries among running backs.

Clearly there was no effort to conserve a potential commodity the club planned on keeping long term.

But maybe for 16-20 more games on another franchise tag of $14.5 million? Sure. Why not? That would make sense.

Constructing a long-term deal, based on the Steelers' previous approach, would be counterintuitive. Why do so now if you can walk away clean from the two years of good productivity you planned on paying for in the first place?

If 2017 was a test from the organization to see if Bell can stay healthy and pot-free for a whole year, mission accomplished.

But if 2017 was also in part to show signs of maturity from Bell, he actually may have taken a step back thanks to all of his ill-timed contract demands and tweets about the Patriots before the Jacksonville playoff game.

Bell has made it clear his primary concern is breaking the bank for running back contracts.

The Steelers have made it clear they have concerns about investing in Bell beyond 2019 at best.

So the franchise tag seems to make the most sense for both parties. Go through one more year together. Bell can rake in even more cash next offseason. Then the Steelers can step away or compete for his services on the open market.

If they still want to “show him the money.”

Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

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